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Looking for the Light


A conversation between Marsha Pearce and Ashraph


Artist Ashraph
Artist and curator Ashraph at his Frame Shop and art gallery, Trinidad. Image courtesy the artist.


Marsha Pearce: How are you Ash? How have you been coping during this time?

Ashraph: It’s not easy but I’m trying my best under the circumstances. It is really hard for any small business right now. Art is not the top of the list for anyone. For the first few days I was worried about what I was going to do – how I am going to pay the bills. I started painting some heads and then I was too overwhelmed and realised I needed a change of scenery. I had not had a lot of business those first couple months of this year, which is normal for Carnival. I was really in my head about it and decided to spend a few days with my sister, for me to come to terms with what was happening and regroup. A few days actually turned into a couple weeks. I then made the effort to come back to Port of Spain to continue my work.

You have been posting new work on social media – paintings of faces that almost blend into dark backgrounds. Each face is partially concealed by a mask. The eyes are unusually wide and piercing. Please tell me about this latest body of work. How has the Covid-19 situation influenced these images?

These heads are how I am actually working through this Covid situation. My work reflects me. They are my portraits for 2020. They started off as self-portraits and now, everywhere you turn, it is what you see.

Work from Ashraph’s new 2020 series. Images courtesy the artist.
2020 portrait by Ashraph
One of Ashraph’s new 2020 portraits. Image courtesy the artist.

You’re an artist and curator. You own and operate a small art gallery and frame shop in Trinidad’s capital city. I want to talk about the practice of curating during this time. You have been working on a solo show of art by Dean Arlen. It’s titled “Two at a Time: From Giessen to Port of Spain.” Does the name reflect the way viewers are invited into the space to view the works, in this context of social distancing? Why have you chosen to maintain a physical show? Will the online environment play a role in how audiences experience Arlen’s work?

Yes, two at a time and don’t forget your mask. Also, Dean started this body of work in Germany and finished in Trinidad, so it’s “two at a time” in that way as well. Regarding having a physical show: Why not? People need to visit the space. It’s a different experience seeing a real painting as opposed to just a picture. I think we can do this two at a time – especially with the size of the space.

With respect to the online environment, this is what I normally do for all my shows. I post heavily on social media leading up to the show and continue until the show ends. This show is no different in terms of online presence. The only difference between this show and the others is that it has no catalogue.

Dean Arlen solo show at The Frame Shop Trinidad
Installation view of Dean Arlen’s solo exhibition at The Frame Shop – A Space Inna Space. Image courtesy Ashraph.

You’re also an avid art collector. Do you find yourself turning to your personal collection for strength, assurance, inspiration or joy in a time when it is easy to feel anxious? Are there any particular pieces in your art collection that you are drawn to, again and again, in this pandemic?

I enjoy sitting in my apartment and looking at my collection. I wake up to a beautiful landscape of Maracas Bay by Boscoe Holder and get home from work and open my door to a well-crafted painting by Paul Kain that always puts a smile on my face. They are all so different and I enjoy them all. There are no particular works in the collection that I am drawn to at this time. Right now, I am drawn to the work I am creating: my heads.

I know you have a deep interest in carnival. You have led a small band of masqueraders for a number of years under the band name Cat in Bag Productions. What’s your outlook for Trinidad Carnival 2021? The polio virus postponed the Trinidad Carnival in 1972. What’s your thoughts/vision for next year?

The way the world is going right now, who knows? We don’t even know what the situation will be in a month, much less for next year. The polio situation happened in a different time. With Covid-19, the entire world has shut down. I am not sure the two are comparable. I think they are so different. All sorts of plans are out of the window at the moment. I had a plan for a band but right now I’m not sure. I am hoping for the best – looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.


NOTE: The solo exhibition Two at a Time: From Giessen to Port of Spain opened during Trinidad and Tobago’s phased emergence from the Covid-19 lockdown.

Stay connected with Ashraph:

Instagram: @ashraphr65

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